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CAPSULE REVIEW : O’Connor’s Songs Raise Expectations

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Call her 1990’s Tracy Chapman . . . this decade’s Chrissie Hynde . . . or even a new generation’s Patti Smith.

Too much praise for a 23-year-old Irish singer-songwriter with just two albums to her credit?

Not if you’ve heard Sinead O’Connor’s seductively tender version of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” or her hauntingly personal “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” album--or if you saw her concert Tuesday at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theatre.

In the unending parade of pop faces and styles, O’Connor offers traces on record and on stage of being a trailblazer--someone like Chapman, Hynde and Smith--who not only entertains and inspires but also lifts our expectations of pop music.

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O’Connor’s songs of personal exorcism and spiritual transformation are so intimate and unguarded that you feel at times you’re eavesdropping in a confessional--or overhearing a stormy scene in a bedroom, or in one song witnessing the final, bitter goodbys of a couple in an attorney’s office.

O’Connor--who continues her U.S. tour with sold-out shows Thursday and Friday at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles--writes about betrayal and misjudgments with anger and fury but she emerges from it all with a sense of optimism and faith.

Coupled with the introspective, philosophical nature of her music, this head-spinning success could tempt O’Connor into presenting herself as some sort of precious angel--an image she called to mind (no doubt inadvertently) when she walked on stage at one stop on her recent European tour in a hooded robe.

By looking like a member of some exotic monastic order, O’Connor focused attention during that concert on the spiritual undercurrents in the album.

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On Tuesday, however, O’Connor wore a leather jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, emphasizing the frisky, down-to-earth side of her personality and music.

When O’Connor, an outspoken fan of rap music, took off the jacket, the lettering on her T-shirt spotlighted the playfulness even more. In a tip of the hat to the controversial Los Angeles rap group N.W.A, the front of the shirt read “P.W.A."--for, as the lettering on the back explained, “Paddies With Attitude.”

As the concert proceeded, O’Connor moved from the cathedral-like tone of the opening number through the rock ‘n’ roll sass of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a tale of confrontation, to the sensual heat of “I Want Your (Hands On Me).”

Her greatest talent at this early point in her career is her singing, which moves between a whisper and a scream with the suddenness and authority of a stunt-car driver swerving to avoid an accident.

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But her most prized attribute may be her ability to infuse music with the most profoundly personal feelings, yet leave enough room for the audience to find their own emotional connection.

A full review runs in Thursday’s Calendar section.


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